Another day, another politician caught in sexual misconduct. Several women have recently come forward claiming 70-year-old San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is a grabby, kissy pervert who’s constantly harassing women everywhere, including in the workplace. Think his political career is finished? Guys like Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, and David Vitter may have something to say about that.
You’ve probably heard some of the bizarre stories surrounding Filner by now. As Caitlin Dickson of The Daily Beast describes, “For the past week, Filner has been weathering accusations of sexual harassment from former City Hall employees who, according to their lawyers, were not just hugged but repeatedly groped and even subjected to a few unwanted wet ones. Filner’s advances were allegedly so common that City Hall workers had become pros at what they dubbed ‘The Filner Dance,’ the swerve used to avoid their boss’s grasp.”
The list of sexual harassment allegations is endless. His chief-of-staff has already resigned. His fiancé has dumped him, claiming in a recent statement, “[A]s Bob’s behavior continued to become more aggressive, standard decorum seemed to disappear. Bob recently began texting other women sexually explicit messages and setting up dates while in my presence and within my line of vision.”
His reactions to the allegations have been even more bizarre. At first, he was quick to apologize for his actions, telling the San Diego Union Tribune that he’s “embarrassed to admit that I have failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me.” He even went to so far as to acknowledge “that I need help,” saying: “I have begun to work with professionals in sexual-harassment training provided by the city.”
But now he seems to be fighting the allegations, as well as calls for him to resign. In an interview with local television station KUSI, Filner combatted the critics, saying his actions as a “demonstrable” and “outgoing” individual have just been “taken in an offensive manner.” The mayor even called himself “a hugger, of both men and women,” which on the creep scale, registers at about Jerry Sandusky level.
Now he's agreed to be a the keynote speaker at a benefit for sexual assault victims in an effort to repair his image (awww). There’s also an effort underway to recall Filner, but he’s probably fighting the pleas to resign from office under the assumption that if he simply waits long enough, “this will all blow over.”
And it’s not like he doesn’t have any reason to believe so. Larry “Bathroom Stall Call” Craig resisted calls to resign after his arrest in 2007 and went on to serve the remainder of his term after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and paying a fine. Mark “My Argentine Valentine” Sanford also refused to resign when his scandal broke and served out the remainder of his gubernatorial term, then even ran for public office again two years later and won his old congressional seat back. Anthony “The Peter Tweeter” Weiner and Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer are also on the comeback trail for their respective races in New York City this year, even leading in the latest polls. David “The Hooker Booker” Vitter breezed through his scandal after he was discovered to have solicited the services of the D.C. Madame and easily won re-election in 2010 after asking for the public’s forgiveness.
Yes, there were a couple scandal-plagued politicians who panicked and resigned immediately, such as former Congressmen Chris Lee and Eric Massa (what’s in the water in New York anyway?), but for the most part, where as once upon a time it was said that your political career was over if you were caught in a sex scandal, it now seems that as long as you have the right connections, fundraising power, and support network, nothing is ever over for any disgraced politician today.
I often hear people ask, “Why do so many politicians cheat on their wives?” For starters, I don’t think sexual misconduct is limited to lawmakers. You just hear about it more from media since they’re public officials. Second, if you ask any campaign staffer or legislative aide this question, they’ll be the first to tell you 95% of these guys are dorks, and have been dorks their whole lives. They’re not used to getting any attention or respect from women … until they get elected to public office. Many of them get married and have children on their way to getting elected, and the fact that they go on to cheat on their wives and disgrace their families truly is despicable. I can’t think of anything more selfish, inconsiderate and shameful.
But this is why I always go back to Derek Jeter as an example. Jeter sleeps with a different woman every week, but nobody cares because he’s single. If you want to live a very sexually active life with different people, that’s one thing. But when you decide to enter the covenant of marriage with someone (that’s if you ever took the institution seriously to begin with), start a family with him or her, and then continue to live a very sexually active life with other people, that’s something else entirely.
In Filner’s case, this was sexual harassment between non-consenting adults (prompting his fiancé to leave him). But I think the real question today is not why politicians cheat on their wives, but whether it matters anymore. These guys have spent years making their connections, racking up the experience and building relationships within their communities. While the trust they have with their spouses may be broken, it seems the trust they’ve built with their constituents remains unaffected. As long as they believe these politicians “are on their side,” they go on to win open democratic elections.
Maybe America just likes a comeback story, as long as you come forward with it. During the mother of all political sex scandals, pollster Dick Morris infamously advised President Bill Clinton at the time: “The public will forgive the adultery, but they won’t easily forgive that you lied.”
So what do you think? Is the fact that the American public can forgive lewd behavior and misconduct of our public officials a good thing and look past it come election time? Or is this a serious cause for concern?